Posts Tagged ‘murder’

Murder of Dutch IKON journalists in 1982 in El Salvador revisited

September 25, 2018

In the Dutch media a lot of attention is being paid at the moment to the 35-year old story of the IKON journalists who were killed in El Salvador in 1982. Some years ago I started to write up ‘human rights stories’ that I had been closely involved in, with the idea that some day they would be of interest. This seems a good moment to ‘publish’ for the first time the chapter on my involvment with the case of the IKON journalists:

1982 IKON journalists killing and El Salvador

…On 17 March 1982, three months before I took up my post as thea first director of the new Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), the world – and especially the Netherlands – were shocked by the kiliing of a team of television journalists of the TV channel IKON in El Salvador. The very uncivil conflict there had already costs thousands of people their lives including the internationally known cases of the 4 American nuns and the progressive bishop Oscar Romero 1980. The USA under Reagan had clearly changed course and was openly supporting the Duarte regime against the left-wing rebels. The Dutch government – especially its ‘atlanticist’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van de Broek[1]– was caught between its desire to appease the US government and to respond to the public outcry back home. The compromise reached was that the Dutch Ambassador from a neighbouring country (Jan Willem Bertens) was exceptionally allowed to undertake an investigation on Salvadoran territory, but – if no evidence of government involvement was found – that would be the end of the affair. The fact-finding mission by the Dutch Ambassador did not find any strong evidence; the report was left with the Salvador government and submitted to the Dutch parliament.

One of the first visitors to SIM was Yata Matsuzaki who was the partner of one of the journalists killed and on behalf of the families – who were not convinced by the inconclusive Bertens report. She asked me to take on the case and see whatever else could to done to keep the matter alive. There was even some money set aside for this by the families which was very useful as later – when the Dutch Minister Van der Stoel queried whether this kind of activity (i.e. second-guessing him) was within SIM’s mandate – I was able to refer to the fact that SIM was supposed to find externally funded projects and this had been one of them.

In fact, I had to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find ways to keep the case alive but fortunately the UN had just establish a “Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”and I submitted the case there. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in NY I also tried to obtain copies of relevant telexes from the US State Department but most was blacked out.

This involvement with El Salvador led SIM to start a project on how to count human rights violations in general (with initial focus on Central America) and we tried to solve difficult issues such as killings by non-state actors and defining indirect victims. One of the persons helping in El Salvador was Marianella Garcia Villas who had come to SIM in early 1983. I offered to help her with obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands, but she insisted on going back as she was most needed there.  I felt not just sad and shocked but also ‘guilty’ when soon after her return she was murdered.

Then in May 1984 three Dutch parliamentarians (one from each main party) accepted to go on a mission to Central America (and the USA see picture) and I was asked to join as an independent ‘expert’. It became a memorable trip, including a shooting incident on the road in Nicaragua, but what crowned it was that in El Salvador I got a chance to meet with the Prosecutor’s office that was in charge of the IKON investigation. They kindly showed me the file and I was shocked to see that it contained almost nothing and especially that the report by the Dutch Ambassador – 2 years later! – had not been translated into Spanish.

Upon arrival in Schiphol airport, there was a well-attended press conference and when there were questions about the IKON investigation the parliamentarians agreed that I should answer as an independent expert. The journalists had clearly not forgotten their colleagues and fielded many questions. When asked what the Dutch government should do now, I replied that it is was time to re-open the investigation and that my colleagues on the mission representing a majority in parliament were well placed to formally ask for it, which they promptly said they would. When soon afterwards a majorly in parliament adopted a motion requesting this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not pleased and initially refused to carry out the motion. However, as this was not worth a government crisis the Prime Minster Lubbers engineered a compromise under which the Dutch government would follow up and at least translate the text.

In 1993 a Report of the Truth Commission of the United Nations on El Salvador concluded that the journalists had been killed in a planned ambush, that Reyes Mena was responsible and that El Salvador so far had failed to do research in order to sentence and punish those responsible. That same year an amnesty law was passed in El Salvador,…

and now (September 2018) I can add a final chapter:

A team of the Dutch television programme Zembla has traced the former colonel of the Salvadoran army, Mario Reyes Mena, who ordered the killings. The now 79-year-old Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.

When confronted he claimed that the amnesty pronounced by the government of El Salvador covers his actions. However this amnesty law was cancelled in 2016. In August 2017, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, ‘Fundación Comunicándonos’ and ‘Associacíon de Derechos Humanos’, urged the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution.Gert Kuiper, de brother of one of the killed journalists has also started a procedure against the colonel and the Dutch Ambassador in El Salvador supports the move.

It is not known where we stand with this investigation but interesting is to note that in November 2017 another former Salvadoran army colonel, Inocente [SIC] Orlando Montano, was extradited from the USA to Spain to face charges relating to the 1989 killings of the 6 Jesuits priests.

Killings cannot have happy endings but justice is the next best thing.

[1]He succeeded in May 1982 the socialist Van der Stoel whose initial reaction to the killing had been more forceful.

Sources:

https://nltimes.nl/2018/09/25/investigation-ongoing-dutch-journalists-murders-el-salvador-1982

https://nos.nl/artikel/2251835-brein-achter-moord-op-ikon-journalisten-opgespoord.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/former-el-salvador-colonel-extradited-to-spain-over-1989-of-jesuits

STOP THE KILLINGS: you can help Front Line

July 13, 2017

At the end of last year I announced the new Front Line project to remember human rights defenders who have been killed [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/02/new-on-line-memorial-to-remember-killed-human-rights-defenders/] and now I am asking you for your cooperation. If you yourself do not know any cases to be included, you could still forward the post to any person or organization you think could be helpful.  The main parameters of the project are:


The HRD Memorial – http://www.hrdmemorial.org

The the aim is to commemorate all human rights defenders who have been killed for their peaceful work in defense of human rights since the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders came into effect in 1998.

The criteria for inclusion is simply that the person targeted was a HRD killed because of their peaceful human rights work. (The HRD Memorial doesn’t include disappearance cases because of the difficulty in documenting the cases and trying to determine if the person is alive or dead.)

Front Line Defenders have taken a policy decision to only include a case with the permission of the family because of the risk of re-victimisation.

Any inputs (as well questions) can be sent straight to , Head of HRD Memorial Project at Front Line Defenders [jimATfrontlinedefenders.org>]

Repressive governments continue to kill human rights defenders because they think human rights defenders are expendable people, that the killings will have no consequences and that the HRDs will soon be forgotten. The Memorial would be an important tool in the fight against impunity and to keep the flame alive. The Memorial and the participation of national and international NGOs will provide the basis for an international campaign with the theme “Stop the Killings”, which will be launched in the first quarter of 2018. 

Murder of human rights defender Ko Ni in Myanmar

February 1, 2017

On 30 January 2017 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, joined her voice to the many that have strongly condemned the brutal murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and constitutional law expert, who was also the legal adviser to the National League for Democracy (NLD). Mr. Ko Ni was shot and killed outside Yangon Airport on Sunday 29 January after returning from Indonesia where he had been part of a Government-led delegation attending an interfaith study tour. A suspect has been arrested.

“This appears to be another shocking example of a reprisal against those speaking out on behalf of the rights of others,” the expert said, recalling her recent end of visit statement, where she highlighted her concern at the increasing risks faced by human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others working on sensitive issues. [see below“I am shocked to the core by the senseless killing of a highly respected and knowledgeable individual, whom I have met during all of my visits to the country, including most recently just over a week ago,” Ms. Lee said. She expressed her sincerest condolences to his family, and the family of taxi driver Nay Win killed in the same incident after he bravely attempted to apprehend the gunman. The Special Rapporteur underlined that, “U Ko Ni’s passing is a tremendous loss to human rights defenders and for Myanmar.”

Also Front Line Defenders deplores in strong term the killing of human rights defender U Ko Ni. His profile [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/u-ko-ni] describes him as human rights defender and human rights lawyer. He was the legal advisor for the National League for Democracy. He participated in the pro-democracy protests known as the 88 Uprising and was a former political prisoner. Upon release, he became actively involved in the interfaith peace movement and advocated for the rights of Muslim citizens in Myanmar. He strongly opposed the country’s race and religion protection bill which was introduced in August 2015 and which restricted interfaith marriage and caused a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. In 2016, he helped found the Myanmar Muslim Lawyers Association. He also wrote six books on good governance and various human rights issues. U Ko Ni’s daughter reported that the human rights defender often received threats for speaking out against the continuing influence of the military on politics.

As recently as 25 January 2017 the Special Rapporteur had expressed her fears of government retaliation following her visit to Myanmar. She expressed concern that people may face reprisals for meeting with her. Lee recently concluded an official visit in the area during which individuals shared accounts of human rights abuses by the government. Some of the statements came from those in a hard labor camp as well as survivors of a village burning. Lee fears these individuals who met with her will face reprisals from those who believe the accounts given are contrary to the government. “I am deeply concerned about those with whom I met and spoke, those critical of the Government, those defending and advocating for the rights of others, and those who expressed their thoughts and opinions which did not conform to the narrative of those in the position of power.” (Lee will submit her report on Myanmar in March to the UN Human Rights Council).

(Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar.) See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/19/myanmar-backsliding-by-prosecuting-human-rights-defenders-instead-of-perpetrators/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/21/u-n-rapporteur-on-myanmar-called-whore-by-radical-buddhist-monk/

Sources:

JURIST – UN rights expert fears government retaliation following visit to Myanmar

http://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/myanmar-un-rights-expert-condemns-senseless-killing-respected-muslim-lawyer-ko-ni

New on-line memorial to remember killed human rights defenders

December 2, 2016

 

President Michael D Higgins with international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Irish President Michael D Higgins with international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Rachel Flaherty reports in the Irish Times of 24 November on the launch of an on-line Memorial o honour human rights defenders who have been killed The online memorial would be a tool to track investigations and advance the struggle for justice for human rights defenders. The Human Rights Defenders Memorial (HRD Memorial) has been set up by Dublin-based Front Line Defenders as an online international and interactive database. It will detail all the human rights defenders who have been murdered around the world since 1998. The Front Line Defenders organisation has estimated 3,500 have been murdered since then.

A coalition of 20 national and international human rights organisations jointly coordinated the project. Contributors included human rights groups from Colombia, Honduras and the Philippines, which Front Line Defenders said are ranked among three of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders. The organisation said other countries included among the worst in terms of killing and physical attacks against human rights defenders included North KoreaChinaRussiaEgyptSaudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said the memorial sent a message the human rights community was stronger than any one person. “It will not be deterred, and its leaders will not be forgotten,” he said. “This is not random violence. This is the calculated elimination of those who speak out to defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Autocrats and powerful economic interests think that if they kill an activist, they kill a movement. The goal of the HRD Memorial is to prove them wrong.”

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/new-online-memorial-honours-human-rights-defenders-1.2881256

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/celebrating-those-who-were-killed-defending-human-rights

 

Murdered British MP Jo Cox ‘always fought against the hate that killed her’

June 17, 2016

As you will all have read Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire, UK, died on Thursday 16 June after she was shot and stabbed in Birstall in her constituency. She had previously spoken out against the “racism and fascism” of Britain First, an anti-Islam Right-wing group. There are strong indications that she was killed by the hate she fought against.[Her attacker is reported to have shouted “put Britain first” at least twice. A 52-year-old man, named locally as Tommy Mair, has been arrested, the BBC has reported.]. She showed that politician can be human rights defenders.

Colleague MP Cat Smith said in the Lancaster Guardian: “Her life was cut short at 41 but she didn’t waste a day of it…To stand up for human rights, the campaign on behalf of Syria and child refugees, and making sure we don’t forget about people who are suffering.”   “Before she became an MP she worked for Oxfam and was passionate about international development and childrens’ human rights in war zones.” “She did a lot of work on human rights in Gaza.” She spoke out in the House of Parliament on several human rights issues.

Her husband Brendan, with whom she had two young children, Cuillin and Lejla, released a statement after her death. He said: “Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo”

Previously unreleased photo dated 06/06/16 of Labour MP Jo Cox, who died today after being shot and stabbed in the street outside her constituency advice surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday June 16, 2016. See PA story POLICE MP. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Previously unreleased photo dated 06/06/16 of Labour MP Jo Cox, who died after being shot and stabbed in Birstall, West Yorkshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday June 16, 2016. See PA story POLICE MP. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

 

Sources:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/16/labour-mp-jo-cox-shot-in-leeds-witnesses-report/

Lancaster MP: Jo Cox ‘always fought against the hate that killed her’ – Lancaster Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/16/the-guardian-view-on-jo-cox-an-attack-on-humanity-idealism-and-democracy

Killing of human rights defender David Choc Pop in Guatemala

June 17, 2016

It has been stated time and again that nowadays Latin America is the most dangerous region for human rights defenders, especially those working in the area of indigenous and environmental area [see e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/latin-america-philippines-most-dangerous-places-for-human-rights-defenders/]. Guatemala no exception: Read the rest of this entry »

Mubashir Naqvi writes a requiem for Pakistani human rights defender Khurram Zaki

May 18, 2016

Mubashir Naqvi wrote on 17 May 2016 a personal account of his last meeting with the recently-murdered Pakistani human rights defender Khurram Zaki [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/pakistan-killing-zaki-non-progress-perveen-rehman-impunity/]:

Read the rest of this entry »

Salvadoran human rights defender Angélica Miriam Quintanilla Hernández murdered

May 18, 2016

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) reported that on Friday, 6 May 2016, Salvadoran human rights defender, Angélica Miriam Quintanilla Hernández, was killed. Angélica, a sex worker activist, leader and AJWS grantee, was assassinated just two blocks from her office in El Salvador. Read the rest of this entry »

Closing Civil Society Space – a euphemism for Killing Human Rights Defenders

November 30, 2015

The Huffington Post of 29 November 2015 carried a good piece by Brian Dooley (Human Rights First) under the title “When Closing Civil Society Space Means Killing Human Rights Defenders”. He states that “what sometimes gets overlooked in the discussion around “shrinking civil society space” are direct, violent attacks on human rights defenders.”

He refers to this year’s Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) which details killings of HRDs in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. And a Note by the UN Secretary-General in July this year included how “defenders also describe their sense that they are often on their own, with the media showing little interest in reporting acts of aggression against them and with little support from political figures…”

Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defender Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani Assassinated in Yemen

March 19, 2015

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani speaking at the Oslo Forum in 2010

Prominent Yemeni journalist, press freedom advocate, and whistleblower Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani was assassinated on 18 March by unknown gunmen outside of his home in Sanaa. Al-Khaiwani was one of Yemen’s most effective journalists.  He endured years of harassment, kidnappings, and death threats in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of Yemen’s 30-year dictatorship and his exposés on government corruption. His son, the writer Mohammed al-Khaiwani, witnessed the attack, in which several men on motorcycles opened fire on his father and then fled the scene.

The murder of Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani is a cowardly and abhorrent display of the evil that so much of the world faces on a daily basis,” said Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen. “Al-Khaiwani bravely put his life on the line year after year to expose the reality of tyranny and corruption. He will always be remembered for his heroic devotion to use truth and justice.”

Al-Khaiwani is the former editor-in-chief of the pro-democracy online newspaper Al-Shoura. After years of threats and harassment, he was arrested, subjected to a mock trial, and sentenced in 2008 to six years in prison on fabricated charges of conspiring with the leader of an anti-government terrorism cell. and of being a coup-plotter After being tortured during his incarceration, al-Khaiwani received a presidential pardon and was released in 2009.

In June 2008, a week after being sentenced to six years in jail, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani received the Special Award for Human Rights Journalism under Threat from AI UK.

Oslo Freedom Forum Speaker Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani Assassinated in Yemen | News | The Human Rights Foundation.